PARIS: A LOVE STORY
By Kati Marton
Simon & Schuster, $24, 208 pages
In a slim and touching memoir, Kati Marton is trying to create a future by recapturing the past. It is a lonely task, and except for a couple of surprising confessions, she pulls it off with a certain amount of flair and elan.
There are lots of things to like about “Paris: A Love Story.” First, the idyllic setting, which has played an important role throughout her life. Second, the poignancy of her grief over the sudden loss of her third husband, the controversial, high-profile U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Plus a glimpse into her youth, the story of a frightened young Hungarian girl fleeing the horror of Russian occupation. (Her early years in Budapest and flight were hauntingly chronicled in her last book, “Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America.”)
Then there is the exceedingly glam side of her life — a cornucopia of boldface names and far-flung places,
After a brief youthful marriage (this husband is unnamed), the now 63-year old former TV correspondent and author tied the knot for the second time, with the late, dashing, ABC news anchor, Peter Jennings and began a “passionate tormented love story that lasted 15 years.”
Although she knew all about Jennings‘ wandering eye — “his former lovers were legion,” she writes — she was starry-eyed, became pregnant and took the plunge.
The high life was both dizzying and romantic, but, eventually, Ms. Marton tired of trailing in her husband’s wake, dealing with his insecurities and infidelities and condescending attitude.
He called her “glib and ambitious.” On the way to a dinner for Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the White House, he looked at her black strapless gown and sniffed “Are you sure you want to wear that?” The put-down was so disconcerting she spent the entire evening fiddling her decolletage.
Ten years into her marriage it was payback time. She embarked on a very public and well-publicized fling with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen — for some reason she decides not to identify him in the book. She describes him as a “warm, fuzzy, loving man,” and wanted to leave her marriage.
Distraught, Jennings begged her to stay. She did so for five more years until the final humiliation at a swanky party in the Hamptons. (Jennings hurled the car keys at her when she asked to leave.) Announcing she wanted out, Ms. Marton headed to find solace in Paris, a city she had come to know and love during her courtship with Jennings and her student years at the Sorbonne.
It was Christmastime, and out of the blue “a friend — not close — but someone whose company I had enjoyed over the years,” called and suggested a trip to the Loire Valley and showed up in an oversized armored Buick he had borrowed from the American Embassy.
It was the vibrant, attention-grabbing Richard Holbrooke, at that point U.S. ambassador to Germany. He swept her off to Chartres, wooed her by reading aloud about the history of the great cathedral and, voila, it was coup de foudre.
After that brief encounter, theirs became a long-distance relationship. Holbrooke installed a special line from the embassy in Bonn to her apartment in New York.
When she suggested living together upon his return, he declined. “I’m too old for that,” he replied. “I did that with Diane Sawyer for seven years.”
Like any determined female, she proposed. He accepted and sent a gold-embossed card with the traditional ambassadorial seal and a handwritten poem:
“Wilt thou be mine as I am thine,
“With or without this rhyme.”
Six weeks after their wedding in her birthplace, Budapest, Holbrooke assumed the role of bull-dogging peace negotiator in the Balkans and was catapulted onto the world stage. From then on they met mostly in Paris, acquired an apartment there and led lives among the uberswells in the superfast lane.
Robert De Niro, Barbara Walters, Ted Kennedy and George Soros were among the socially correct who gathered around their picture-perfect dinner table during Holbrooke’s assignment as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Placement was the key to success. “Richard and I would sprawl on our bed [in their majestic suite at the Waldorf Astoria] with seating plans moving names around a large board like a pair of generals planning a battle, even as the first guests arrived. We liked unexpected combinations.”
But after 10 years of wining and dining, along with high drama, the fairy tale frayed, and once again, Ms. Marton tells us, she strayed. This time into the arms of a tall handsome Hungarian while she was researching a book in Budapest. (He, too, remains anonymous.) She was swept off her feet.
She confessed all to her husband, whom she calls her “best friend,” while they were sitting on the grass in front of their Bridgehampton home. They both wept and ultimately patched things up.
Holbrooke’s sudden death from an aortic tear when back in Washington from his post in Afghanistan left her shattered. This memoir and her return to her old Paris haunts are part of the healing process.
In Part 1 of her book she quotes Joseph Brodsky: “If there is any substitute for love it is memory. To memorize, then, is to restore intimacy.”
Kati Marton has done that.
• Sandra McElwaine is a Washington correspondent for Newsweek Daily Beast.